[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Electric vehicles have become a common theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Major manufacturers are unveiling new electric vehicles that aren’t simply blue-sky concept car shells. They are designed, engineered and specified throughout, even if they aren’t going to arrive on the showroom floor next month.

A sign of just how far things have come, Tesla is on the main floor, across the aisle from Audi and in between Land Rover and Lotus. There is also a part of the main floor designated as ‘Electric Avenue’ with numerous small manufacturers, as well as a display for the Automotive X Prize, with several of the entrant vehicles on hand for display. Larger manufacturers, including Nissan, with the Leaf, and Mitsubishi, with the i MiEV. For both of these manufacturers, that is the extent of their Detroit presence at the show this year.

The basement of the show this year has been set up with the ‘EcoXperience,’ a set of small winding tracks with numerous hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles available to drive. It’s a tiny course, but it’s enough to put hundreds of journalists–and thousands of show atendees, starting this weekend–behind the wheel of an electric vehicle in order for them to be able to experience first hand what it is like to drive something different. The ordinariness of it may be what is most striking, and many more people may come to think of electric and alternative fuel vehicles as viable options, rather than just car show fantasy.

This morning, I have already driven a Think electric car and a Mercedes Benz fuel-cell crossover. I also met with the president of AMP Electric Vehicles and took a short ride on the streets of Detroit in their X Prize entry vehicle, an all-electric converted Saturn Sky. More about that to come.